Last night, Supernatural introduced a random, obnoxious character deep into the show's backstory. It shouldn't have worked — it's like saying Green Lantern shot Bruce Wayne's parents, all of a sudden — but somehow, it did. Spoilers ahead.
Retcons, short for "retroactive continuity," are part of life any time you have a saga with a deep mythos. Over time, the creators are inevitably going to want to tinker with that mythos and add more notes to the backstory. Most of the time, it's either unnecessary or an outright calamity. But last night, Supernatural gave us a masterclass in how to do the artful retcon.
Here are a bunch of reasons why adding Brady the Demon (played by Flash Gordon!) into Sam's origin story actually worked:
1) It made sense. That is, it fit in with what we already knew about Sam's path — he'd been groomed, since before he was born, as the favored pawn in the Yellow-Eyed Demon's scheme to open the gates of Hell, and later to bust out Lucifer. It seems reasonable enough that Azazel would have had someone keeping tabs on Sam, if he was that important.
2) It answers a question we'd forgotten needed answering. So why exactly did Azazel snuff Sam's girlfriend Jess, back in the show's pilot? It always seemed a bit random and petty, even for a demon. Turns out that Brady and Azazel were worried that Sam was slipping away from them, going off to Stanford and becoming a straight arrow — and most of all, avoiding contact with his demon-hunting family. So they introduced him to a pure, beautiful girlfriend, and then killed her in the most vicious way possible, to set Sam back on his path.
3) It deepens Sam's character, and points to his major contradiction. One of the most intriguing things about Supernatural has always been the way that Sam and Dean are the opposite of what they first appear. At first glance, Sam's the straight arrow, the good kid who wanted to make something of himself, and Dean's the cool rebel who drinks and womanizes and cusses. But one layer beneath the surface, it's reversed: Sam's been claimed by demons and has a dark power pulling on him all the time. And the angels see Dean as their own personal property. The fact that Brady was sent to "remind" Sam of his destiny among the forces of darkness ties in with this beautifully and underscores his central contradiction — all of Sam's attempts to be good have led him towards evil in the end.
And of course, we got a new and shiny hint last night that Sam is about to make one of his classic mistakes. Sam has decided that because Bobby was able to seize control over his own body for a split second when he was possessed by a demon, that means Sam can do the same if he lets Lucifer in. Which is such a ludicrous idea, it's hard to know where to start. (So of course, I'm now thinking Sam's going to go through with it.)
In general, last night's Supernatural was superb, and a welcome return to awesomeness after the "better we don't speak of it" American Gods pastiche. There is one minor quibble, though, and it has to do with...
...The Awesome Power Of Mark Sheppard
I feel like it should be capitalized and underlined, because he is awesome — and Romo/Badger/Manservant Neville has seldom been as awesome as he was last night. He was hilarious, witty, and full of actually amusing gay jokes. (Just like the first time this particular demon, Crowley, appeared.) And his whole "on the run from all the demons" schtick was amazing, and I actually believed him. He really did seem like someone who had the entire demon army on his tail. And the little reminders that you shouldn't actually expect a demon ally to play fair (including those corpses in the lobby, and Dean's severe contusions) were lovely too.
But the Awesome Power of Mark Sheppard can be used for evil as well as good. And one of the chief ways that this power is sometimes used for evil is because writers think that any character played by Mark Sheppard will be able to talk anyone into anything. Getting Lee Adama to go up against his dad yet again, by representing the universally loathed Gaius Baltar? Unlikely, unless Mark Sheppard convinces him to. (And later, getting Lee Adama to agree to become president? Ditto.) It's true that Mark Sheppard is both commanding and full of the gift of gab.
But I didn't quite believe how easily he played Brady, with the whole "I went to a nest of demons and killed all but one of them, and then told them we were lovers" thing. I know, I know, time is running out, it was a short cut. But I didn't think Brady would buy it quite so easily, and I think the writers were relying a bit too much on the Awesome Power of Mark Sheppard. Awesome though it is.
That, however, is just one minor quibble, about an otherwise splendid episode. Oh, and does anybody doubt that the Awesome Power of Mark Sheppard will get Bobby to part with his soul before you can say "Ben Edlund is a fantastic writer"?
So what did you guys think?